If you’ve been paying attention to this asinine saga at all – and let’s hope for your sanity that’s not the case – you know that Newsmax, with its prior contract with DirecTV having run out, is suddenly demanding a massive pay-out from DirecTV. Newsmax is still providing the channel for free to the likes of YouTube, Roku, and more. Given that the contract had expired and a new agreement could not be reached, DirecTV pulled Newsmax from the air. It began airing The First, another right-wing cable network.
Despite all the indications that the end of the contract was a content-neutral decision by a company under siege from rising cord cutting among its customer base (not to mention having lost the NFL Sunday Ticket), Republican politicians have joined in with right-wing pundits to call this censorship. There have been talks of congressional hearings. Presidential candidates have weighed in. It’s one of the silliest big right-wing media stories since Breitbart broke the news of Obama giving a hug to one of his law school professors.
Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy played the hits in an interview with Mike Huckabee. If you don’t want to watch – and again, I do not recommend it – it starts with Huckabee endorsing a congressional investigation into DirecTV and Ruddy in turn saying that Mike Huckabee’s daughter – current Arkansas governor and former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders – will be president in the future.
The interview carries on with Ruddy saying that he was just asking for $1 per subscriber per year. That would be on the upper range of subscriber fees overall (above the likes of CNBC, FX, and Nickelodeon according to 2020 data) and would result in a higher bill for consumers, all of whom could right now access Newsmax content at no cost elsewhere.
Notably, DirecTV is not standing idly by. The company pushed back in a letter to Republican senators who have echoed Newsmax’s disingenuous “censorship” angle. The letter reads in part:
• When DIRECTV’s prior agreement with Newsmax was set to expire, Newsmax advised us that it would extend our right to distribute the channel only if we agreed to pay tens of millions of dollars in new licensing fees – a cost we would have to pass along to all of our customers. We did not agree. No other major pay TV operator in the market currently pays per subscriber fees to carry the channel.
• Newsmax seeks to change the model by which it commercializes its channel. To date, Newsmax has been an advertising-supported channel. To maximize ad sales it distributes the channel free of charge to the approximately 75 million US households that have a pay TV service as well as to the approximately 55 million US households that don’t and instead view the channel on Newsmax’s website or through services like Roku and Amazon Fire. Under its proposed new model, Newsmax plans to make its channel available exclusively in pay TV, to the detriment of the 55 million households that don’t have a pay TV service, and to start charging pay TV operators a per subscriber fee to distribute the channel.
• Newsmax insisted on its terms – as is its right to do – and we insisted on ours. Lacking continued authorization to distribute Newsmax, DIRECTV was forced to remove the channel from our lineup.
• Although not currently available on DIRECTV, Newsmax continues to be available on most other major pay TV operators and is also available free of charge (including to DIRECTV’s customers) on Newsmax’s website and on platforms like Roku and Amazon Fire.
• Newsmax’s claims that DIRECTV is biased against conservative voices is untrue. Importantly, DIRECTV recently launched The First, a conservative news and commentary channel featuring Bill O’Reilly, Jesse Kelly, Liz Wheeler, and Dana Loesch, among others.
• DIRECTV carries five channels that most people would consider to be predominately news: Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, The First and NewsNation. By most people’s measure, two lean conservative (Fox News and The First), two lean liberal (CNN and MSNBC) and one is a new channel that is advertising that it is news focused and in the center (NewsNation). Fox News is by far the leader in terms of audience and household penetration. Newsmax, when we distributed it, was a distant fourth among news channels to Fox, MSNBC and CNN.
• The amounts DIRECTV pays for conservative channels, in the aggregate, is roughly similar to what we pay for liberal channels, in the aggregate.
The company makes clear that its decision was made from a content-neutral perspective. (It is darkly hilarious that the only structural discrimination that right-wing figures can see is a far-right election-denying media company run by a friend of Donald Trump not getting a massive handout from another private company, but that’s a story for another time.)
Newsmax has repeatedly whined that Fox News was being silent about the matter. Now, even the opinion page of the Murdoch-owned WSJ is taking pot shots at Republican politicians falling for the charade:
We take no side in this business dispute, and it’s bewildering why many Republicans are getting involved. Forty-two House Republicans last month wrote a letter to DirecTV executives and its joint owners, AT&T and TPG, threatening to investigate the TV provider for colluding with the government to suppress conservative voices.
Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Tom Cotton piled on this month with a letter suggesting DirecTV may have dropped Newsmax because of “pressure from administration officials or Democrats in Congress” and “may be the latest example of big business suppressing politically disfavored speech at the behest of liberal Democrats.”
Their evidence? A letter from Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney to AT&T CEO John Stankey last February calling for the company to combat misinformation spread by conservative news networks. A letter from two Democratic Congress Members, which was also sent to other TV providers, doesn’t add up to a vast leftwing conspiracy. The Fox News channel, where these pages have a news program, is also a Democratic target.
DirecTV notes that it helped launch Newsmax in 2014 and recently launched the new conservative channel called “The First,” which will increase diversity and competition among conservative voices. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy doesn’t want that. Instead, he is trying to bring political and government pressure to bear on DirecTV to force the satellite operator to carry the channel on Newsmax’s terms.
(First, a footnote about cable providers and Fox News: Fox News Channel has one of the highest carriage fees in the business, way out of line for what cable providers pay other networks. It’s so high that Fox News would remain profitable even with no advertising.)
It’s unclear where this story will go from here. There’s nothing that goes viral on the right like victimhood, and they simply cannot start examining those claims too closely given how many of them are snake oil. In the meantime, there’s no evidence that either consumers or DirecTV itself are the least bit intimidated by any of this. After all, it’s just another grift.